Locks of Love, Relay For Life fight back against cancer

By Maria Murczek

It was New Year’s of 2006. I decided to stay home, relax, and listen to some music. A song lyric really stuck to me that night: “May angels lead you in / Hear you me my friends / On sleepless roads, the sleepless go / May angels lead you in.” It was then that I heard banging on my door and crying coming from my father’s room.

An emergency room visit later, I had learned that my father passed away after his five-year battle with cancer.

As I continue to find closure, I have opened myself up to the cancer community, taking part in Locks of Love and Relay For Life.

A little over a year ago, I cut my hair for Locks of Love. I donated a total of 12 inches of hair, which would be used for a child’s wig. The children receiving wigs have either cancer or a medical condition known as alopecia areata (sometimes called spot baldness). Because of the chemotherapy and other treatments, hair loss occurs.

“I donated in October of 2009. I donated 10 inches, which is now the minimum. [One of my reasons to donate] was the death of my grandmother. She was getting sicker and sicker, and finally couldn’t even remember my name. The one thing she remembered was that I was donating my hair. She would tell every nurse and patient in the hospital so I finally donated in October,” said Kellie Newcomer, Div. 042 “After donating my hair, I was very happy. My grandma passed away from cancer remembering the one thing that was important to her, my donation. I didn’t let her down.”

Though the wigs do not cure the children’s disease, they do, according to www.locksoflove.org, “restore some of the normalcy to their everyday lives that most of us take for granted.” The attention these children receive (because of their hair loss) can be negative, causing them to, “withdraw from normal childhood activities.”

“Knowing my hair that would have just been put in a garbage can made some little girl very happy…how can you go wrong? I believe what goes around comes around and I would only hope some stranger would do the same for me. Both sides of my family have cancer genes. For all I know, I could be the next cancer victim, and without my red hair, I know I would become insecure and depressed,” said Newcomer.

St. Baldrick’s was a hit at Lane last year, but it seemed a little too drastic for me. Being bald did not necessarily appeal to me. Baldrick’s collects money for the charity, which is very generous, but no one seems to hand out their hair as they do with cash. In a way, I felt safer donating my hair – I knew that I was directly benefiting someone. I would be helping a child get at least some of their regular life back.

In some cases, if it is the proper length, Baldrick’s can collect shaved hair and send it to Locks of Love. Once he found inspiration for fighting cancer in my father’s passing, a close friend of mine donated all eleven inches of his hair after getting it shaved last year.

A friend and Lane Alum, Emily Iacullo, who has donated hair in the past, told me about a hair salon called Tres Ambiance. Located on Lincoln Ave. in Lakeview, the salon does Locks of Love cuts at no cost. I decided to go there to donate.

Suzanne DiGiovanni, hair and nail specialist at Tres Ambiance for 22 years, takes care of the cuts. She herself is a cancer survivor.

“I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma six to seven years ago. I then got bladder cancer four years ago.”

DiGiovanni was treated with chemotheraphy and radiation, and now is cancer-free.

She does the haircuts for free because of her connection with cancer and she believes more people need to donate their hair.

“I do the cuts for free to encourage people to give hair for a good cause.”

However, there are Tres Ambiance standards to the free haircut.

“Locks of Love will really take any amount. It’s usually ten inches, but they will take less. I encourage longer [hair] to have wigs. My standard for the free cut is ten inches or more.”

Appointments must be made a week in advance to get a free haircut from Tres Ambiance. The salon’s website,www.tresambiance.com, has contact and other price information.

Locks of Love is also a part of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Relay is an overnight event that takes place at high schools, colleges, and parks across the nation to celebrate the lives of cancer survivors, remember loved ones who have lost their fight, and fight back against the illness. Everyone takes turns walking and running a track, as well as being involved in other activities.

I have participated in the All-Youth Relay for Life of Orland Park, IL (District 230) for two years. Because of my personal connection, my friends of the southern suburb thought it would be a great idea for me to get involved. Another reason for why I Relay at District 230 is because they are the second largest all-youth fundraiser in the nation. For the past 13 years, these high school students have raised over $2 million – this year alone, the district collected a total of over $395,000 and counting.

During my sophomore year, I raised well over 500 dollars for my team. This year, I raised 355 dollars. Donations are still being accepted on- and offline through August 31st, in hopes the district reaches its ultimate goal of $400,000.

According to Relay’s website, all donations, “fund groundbreaking cancer research, provide up-to-date cancer information, advocate for all people to have access to screening and treatment, and offer free programs and services to improve the quality of life for people facing cancer.”

Besides donations, the overnight event is just as important. The event occurred on May 14th at 6 PM. Many teams showed their enthusiasm through colorful t-shirts that fight back against cancer. I even found two students dressed as Waldo at this year’s Relay. They wanted to find the cure. At around 9PM, the most touching part of the event began.

The ceremony raised awareness of how real cancer is. As over 3,100 students packed into the bleachers this year, the stadium lights shut off, the area lit by Luminaria (candle-lit paper bags with the names of those who lost their battle). A sweet voice spoke clearly on the microphone: ‘Hi. I am a sophomore at Carl Sandburg High School, I am a normal teenager, and I survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.’ As she told the story of her horrific past, quiet sobs had been heard around me. Students were cuddling each other for comfort, and I myself could not stop crying throughout the ceremony.

After the emotions flowed, the energy and motivation in the stands became electrifying. We could make a difference. Running, walking, dancing, and sports continued until 6AM the next morning. Locks of Love and St. Baldrick’s were part of the event, collecting and shaving away. A friend of mine at Carl Sandburg, Kaitlyn Dempsey, donated well over a foot of hair.

“I haven’t cut my hair past my shoulders since second grade when I cut it about the same length,” said Dempsey.

Food vendors, photo booths, marriage ceremonies (my mom was not too thrilled about my Relay marriage to my team captain), and other great activities helped collect further donations periodically throughout the night. Open Mic was also held to keep students awake and participating.

By 5AM, teen zombies continued to pace the track with blankets wrapped around them. The exhaustion I felt after Relay was pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to what cancer patients go through. It felt good to be part of something so big and important.

I know I cannot change the past, but I feel good knowing I can help change the future of cancer.